It’s no surprise that hunter recruitment is more challenging than ever due to ever increasing demands on kids’ time. Whether it’s school, team sports or electronic gaming, today’s youth simply don’t have the free time that kids had a generation or two ago.
As a father of two boys ages 13 and 15, this situation is my daily reality check. Yes, I’m thankful that my kids love the outdoors, but it is a challenge to find time for hunting with so many other activities pulling them in different directions. That said, one hunting tool, a scoped crossbow, appealed to my kids when they were first introduced to it a few years ago, and I’ve never had to ask twice whether they’d like to shoot it.
I won’t try to explain the reasons why crossbows are cool in the minds of many kids — including my own — because I honestly have no idea. I do know, however, that they’d rather shoot a scoped crossbow than a vertical bow. And while I never shot or hunted with a crossbow until after I’d been hunting with traditional bows and compounds for more than 30 years, I wasn’t about to insist that they follow my same path through the various equipment choices.
Start ‘Em Young
I spend at least half my time bowhunting in Wisconsin, and thankfully the state allows legal hunters of any age the choice to carry a crossbow during its regular archery season. When my sons were much too small to handle a compound bow with a draw weight of 40 pounds, I cocked a crossbow for them and taught them to shoot it. With the crossbow resting solidly on a tripod, my oldest son arrowed his first-ever big game animal on his first-ever afternoon of deer hunting. He was 10 at the time, and he’s been going deer hunting with me every year since. My youngest son also started shooting and hunting with a crossbow at age 10, and while he has yet to tag a deer yet, he loves the pursuit.
Make It Fun
If you own an archery shop, you certainly understand the challenges of having compound bows ready for testing. Everyone through your door seems to be a different draw length, and novice shooters — especially young kids — certainly can’t pull back compound bows of 40 pounds; sometimes 30 pounds is beyond their capabilities. Sure, they could use one of the many youth-model compounds available, and non-letoff bows such as a Genesis Original or Genesis Mini are an option, but if you really want to see their eyes light up, show them a fully decked out scoped crossbow. Some high-end modern crossbows come with adjustable stocks, but to keep costs down, it makes sense to stock a model like the Wicked Ridge Ranger that has a reduced length-of-pull designed for small-framed shooters.
Because it’s likely a child has never shot a crossbow before, and the simple fact that many modern crossbows look more like rifles than bows, it’s best for them to watch an adult shoot the bow for the first time. It also allows the adult the chance to talk them through the process of balancing the bow on the tripod, how to position your eye behind the scope, where to hold the forearm of the bow, how to click off the safety, and how to press the trigger to the rear to send an arrow downrange.
And this fact is important, too: Some young kids will expect a crossbow to be loud like gun, so they might flinch a bit when an adult shoots for the first time or two. Let them learn that while a crossbow makes more noise than a compound, it certainly doesn’t require any hearing protection. Also explain to them that there’s no recoil.
After a young kid watches an adult (or another kid who is experienced with a crossbow) shoot a time or two, let them sit down on a stool behind the tripod and give it a try. Certainly correct them immediately when it comes to safety issues, but don’t worry too much right from the start if you see them jerking the trigger or flinching (closing their eyes) upon firing the bow. Let them learn slowly that the crossbow isn’t going to punish their ears or their shoulder. Soon, they’ll be squeezing the trigger, aiming intently and following-through on their shot.
To make it even more fun for young kids, allow them to target various 3-D animal targets, or place small balloons on your target backstop. The immediate feedback of popping balloons is hard to beat in the eyes of a young shooter.
Many young kids who enter your archery shop with their dad or mom have had the chance to shoot a Genesis bow during a physical education class at their school, but it’s likely they’ve never shot a crossbow. Do yourself — and your shop’s bottom line — a favor by keeping a fully rigged crossbow ready to roll on the line at your range. When the time is right, ask the parent if they’d like to let their son or daughter take a shot or two at some balloons downrange. Who knows, you might just capture the interest of a youngster who never dreamed they’d be interested in archery.